People start gathering around the cross to pray.
On May 3rd, people in Maio celebrated their most important traditional event of the year: the Festa de Santa Cruz. It commemorates the end of slavery on the island - a very recent event. Slavery continued to take place unofficially well into the 20th century. My friend and colleague Eusa, who is my age, told me that her grandfather was a slave.
People start collecting money and food for the Santa Cruz party more than a month in advance. Every night, they walk from house to house, dancing, singing and making music with instruments such as drums or búzio (a conch shell). This event is called tambour (from the French word for "drums"). When the revelers knock on your door, as long as you give something, no matter how little, your praises will be sung in the street. If you don't give anything, you will be loudly insulted for everyone to hear. And trust me, on a small island like Maio, it doesn't take long before everyone knows about your stinginess, and your reputation is ruined. Maybe I should use some of these fundraising techniques for my own organization, FMB?
A week before the celebrations, people start putting out corn to dry on the main square, and then meet to grind it. This corn is then used in traditional dishes such as cachupa, xerém and cuscus (if you are curious about these dishes, click on the word "cachupa"!).
On the day of Santa Cruz, the celebrations start with a procession, called tabanka. At midday, people wearing traditional black and white clothes gather in front of the house of the King of Santa Cruz, singing, dancing and playing drums. From there, the procession walks to the Queen's house to pick her up, before heading down to the beach where the cross (santissíma cruz) is located. People then gather around it to pray, and everyone takes turns to kiss it. Afterwards, the procession takes shape again and heads back to town for the party to begin. Food is cooked in open air on the main square, and people eat and dance all afternoon.
So what does the Festa de Santa Cruz have to do with my work as a conservation scientist with FMB? Well, take a look at the picture of the place where the praying for Santa Cruz took place. Only a year ago, there would have been nothing in the background but the beaches and sea. Now, as you can see, this has been replaced by a construction site for a new hotel. This project not only had a devastating impact on Maio’s natural heritage (especially on nesting turtles and birds), but also on its cultural heritage. The people of Maio are terribly frustrated that one of Maio’s most important cultural sites was thus disfigured by the construction of this tourist resort. This is a very telling example of our philosophy at FMB: nature and culture often go hand in hand, and what is in the interest of the environment can also be in the interest of people. It does not always have to be the fight of Man against nature, or vice-versa.
As the unique traditions of the Festa de Santa Cruz show, Maio is a place that has so much to offer. The island deserves better than tourists solely interested in swimming pools (why even bother going down to the beach?) and in getting sunburned. Tourism is both an economical reality and an economical necessity in Maio. However, there are alternatives to the mass tourism exemplified by the construction site of the picture: Maio should target visitors that are respectful of and interested in its nature, its culture and the lives of its people.
Nature Conservation in Cape Verde: Whales, Turtles and Funana
Since September 2011, I've been setting up the NGO "Fundação Maio Biodiversidade" to protect the fauna and flora of Maio, an island in the Cape Verde archipelago. Look out for posts about the NGO's work and about life in Cape Verde in general! If you're interested in an internship with us, have a look at our website (www.maioconservation.org) and contact me here.
About the Author:
My name is Elisa, I am French with Belgian parents, studied Organismic and Evolutionary Biology at Harvard ('11) for my bachelor's, and am now working with a nature conservancy NGO in Maio, Cape Verde. That's where I got to see this amazing loggerhead turtle!
Contact me here!
The Network for Pre-Professional Women in Science and Engineering
The Scientista Foundation is a registered 501(c)(3) -- Donate!